The forms I build contain narratives of place, memory and relationships. How I construct these forms grows out of an understanding I have of the body, and its interior design. Cross-sections, maps, charts and landscapes diagram and unfold different levels of thought, comprehension and awareness that reside in the body—the senses, brain, heart, guts, genitals, soul. Paint, pigment, collage and thread laid down as various marks embody a language that conveys and holds these stories just as one’s own material structure houses one’s history. Landscapes depict piles of color, weaving a mass I suppose as a brain, mostly my own, but sometimes includes my grandmother’s failing brain and sometimes my daughter’s newly forming brain. Existing in an invented landscape, I re-contextualize this form and re-plant my memories and thoughts of our lives at different stages. Simultaneously, they are memoirs and also presagements.
I make a series of decisions, a mark, and a piece of color, a length of line based upon an idea, a memory and/or image that I have seen. I see this as a kind of dialogue between life and art that builds a vocabulary for me to use in multiple works. I image color combinations and various marks that become particular areas of place or relationships in my narrative. These color combinations are sometimes color inventories from particular images and memories. Obsession, patience, labor, delight and joy are what I am after in my research of embroideries, historical stitches, palette combinations and other relics of bygone. Growing up in the South, I shared in a deep tradition of women’s domestic activities--quilting, embroidery and samplers—but did not think of it as such. There I learned about constrains, to “make do” with what one has at home, both efficiently and effectively. Lengths of thread, scraps of color, remnants of materials that can no longer do a job they were originally intended to do, are given new meaning and purpose. The improvisational process allows these utilitarian objects to develop in a very abstract manner. Reflexively, piece-by-piece, they develop and disclose their content, informing the way I think about making work that is personal and narrative.
Jan Johnson is an artist living and working in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her most recent body of work is a series of embroideries on vintage handkerchiefs exploring the complexities of relationships. She is working on an embroidered jacket and series of prints and drawings designed from a montage of drawings by her daughter. Research and scholarly work are important to her practice. She aims to make substantial progress on a new body of work in embroidery, drawings and prints from my investigations into historical and contemporary needlework of Scotland, and place-based research of Scottish land and culture. Travel for learning and making work is important to me and is presently researching historical needlework of Scotland. A lecturer of drawing, printmaking and foundation studies at Clark University and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, in 2010, she became a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Drawing. In 2002, she received a Painting Fellowship from the Rhode Island School of Design to study and paint in Rome. Her work is exhibited nationally and locally in the Boston area.
© copyright Jan Johnson, 2015